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Why Are We Fascinated By True Crime Stories?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

“Up to 25 Die in Colorado School Shooting”. “5 dead after taking Tylenol capsules filled with cyanide”. “8 people murdered in their beds in Villisca Sunday Night”. These are some headlines published in journals years ago, but if they were to appear in your timeline right now, you would probably stop whatever you’re doing to read them. No matter how long ago these events happened, they still have the power of catching people’s attention. 

All these headlines have something in common: they are responsible for causing shock as a first impression. When reading about absurd situations like that, we often wonder how people could have enough courage to commit such terrible crimes, and what crossed their minds when they decided to take someone’s life. As long as the list of questions may be, the purpose here is not to discuss the motivation of a serial killer or what makes someone a sociopath. However, if I wrote an article about any of those subjects, you would still be interested in reading it – and that’s not something you need to be worried about. It is pretty natural for us humans to do so. 

The more creepy, absurd, and odd these events may appear, the more we want to hear and get to know about them. But why? Ivan Mario Braun, a psychiatrist who graduated from the University of São Paulo Medical School, explains why this happens: “First, we need to understand that different people have different motivations, but in general, these motivations can be put in some categories”. 

We can’t look away

“Firstly, we need to have in mind that people are curious”, says Doctor Braun. Getting to know about what surrounds us and being able to anticipate certain situations activates our prefrontal cortex, the area of our brains responsible for the circuit of reward. “Things that are far from what we perceive as common easily drag our attention. You can compare this situation to a recurrent feeling: when we see someone extremely beautiful on the streets, we automatically want to look at this person, because she or he is simply outstanding”, says Ivan.

The doctor also points out a common phenomenon called “habituation phenomenon”, which refers to something we automatically tend to ignore because we are constantly exposed to. As a consequence, the fact that we can easily keep in touch with this type of strange situation might make us desensitized, even if unconsciously, causing us to normalize absurd behaviors and increase our tolerance to crimes. 

We don’t want to be “the next one”

Another motivation for this interest is related to prevention: “People keep in touch with situations of danger as a form of self-defense”, says the psychiatrist. For him, when we understand the events that precede crimes and get in touch with the conditions that predispose delicts, we can avoid them in a much faster and simpler way. 

We want to understand it

The third motivation talks about comprehension. We, humans, have an interest in understanding the behavior of others, since we live in a society and constantly monitor and judge each other’s actions. In that way, our interest is related to the need of being informed and aware of whatever radiates our daily lives. 

Some people might even like it

Last but not least, there is a motivation that can be a sign of abnormal behavior. When the fascination reaches the point of admiration, keeping in touch with crimes can be related to a sadic pleasure. The hyperfocus on the subject can, in some kind of way, view reproducing certain actions, once people show worship on the agents of the events and see their aim as a synonym of extreme courage. “That is the point in which professional help is needed because it can indicate a disposition to psychotic behavior”, concludes Dr. Braun.

Finally, it is safe to say that news related to elaborate homicides and films about serial killers become easily famous for pretty understandable reasons. It is part of one’s psyche wanting to know about situations that astonish us, and in a resumed train of thought, there is not much that can be done about it. In any of those cases, these 4 motivations are here to show us that, except for the last one, there is nothing wrong with you being interested in true crime stories. 

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The article above was edited by Giulia Gianolla.  

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Manuella de Palma

Casper Libero '25

Hey there! My name is Manuella and I am from Sao Paulo, Brazil. I am 18 years old and currently a Journalism student. I love to sing, dance, write, and (especially) talk. I am also passionate about movies and traveling, but who isn’t?
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